One of the joys of the work we do at Black Enterprise is highlighting established, successful black-owned businesses, as well as the new and emerging startups that so many people of color, especially women, are launching. The editors here receive pitches from CEOs and those that represent them in the hundreds, daily.
With the sheer amount of pitches and emails we receive, there is a definite pattern to the ones most likely to get a response and coverage and the ones that are not. Part of launching a successful business is being able to present your business and yourselves as CEOs/founders in such a manner that no editor would dare not take you seriously.
That said, we have compiled a list to help young startups, in particular, put a bold and professional pitch together when approaching media for coverage. We encourage startup founders to always retain their uniqueness, personality, and authenticity when they are pitching their companies for coverage.
Therefore, instead of a stodgy list with a bunch of nagging suggestions on how to pitch your business, we are going to tell you what you absolutely should not do. That’s a much shorter list and one we feel won’t stifle any founder’s creativity.
5 Ways to Not Be Taken Seriously as a Startup CEO (When Pitching Your Business for Coverage)
- Glamour Headshots
We always like to feature images of business founders as well as their teams. We live in an increasingly visual world, so the more images (and even video, especially 360-degree video!) the better.
You may be surprised at how many founders, mostly millennials—both men and women, send us very staged photo stills as images to accompany their story. They often range in quality from elaborate, fashion model photo shoots to those chain store glamour shots that were so popular in shopping malls in the ’90s.
Don’t send pictures of yourself all dolled up looking seductively into the camera, or in some haute couture pressed up against a graffiti-strewn brick wall on some hip city street. Instead, send images of you and your team at work; at your business; doing business. We want to show you doing what you do every day to become a business success. Besides, action shots are more compelling, unless you are talking about fashion magazines—and we are about the startup founders.
- Offer “Bumper Sticker” Advice in Interviews
We also get many requests from entrepreneurs to write or submit videos offering advice to other entrepreneurs. It’s great that those who gain success in their business want to share their experiences, both negative and positive, to help others achieve their entrepreneurial dreams.
Yet, there are times when we have to reject those pitches. Some CEOs and startup founders offer little more than bumper sticker platitudes in the guise of advice. For instance, we received a pitch from one entrepreneur looking to write business “tips” for other entrepreneurs. These tips included:
- Don’t Be Afraid to Take Risks
- Learn How to Say, “No”
- Overcome Doubt
- How to Find a Mentor
But, these aren’t business tips—this is an agenda of a life coaching event. As a business owner, what you can offer is specific, solid business advice: How do you calculate gross profit? How did you find funding? How do you balance your 9-to-5 with launching your own business?
If you have encountered a problem or had a question, it is likely another entrepreneur encountered the same. Sharing that experience is invaluable and raises the chances of getting an editor’s attention when pitching yourself as a business expert.
- Be Vague About Money
Money is an uncomfortable subject, yet one that any startup founder will inevitably have to discuss—a lot. If you want your business or startup covered by media, be prepared to answer specific questions on how you funded your business, who gave you the funds, and how much. You will also be asked, at least by a reputable media outlet, to provide names and contact information of your investors for verification as well as information about your revenue and market share.
Nothing elicits more eye-rolls over a startup’s pitch than hyperbole. If you’ve been in business less than a year, its unlikely your company is the “best,” “largest,” “most successful,” or “only” anything. And, if it is, you’d better have the evidence to back up such a claim.
We want to feature startups struggling to stay afloat as well as the ones who are breaking even in addition to the success stories. We want your real story.
- Only Comment Through a Press Release
Many startups and businesses turn to public relations firms to handle their media coverage—pretty much a standard. PR firms can serve as great go-betweens for media outlets and businesses, but that doesn’t mean founders should be inaccessible. If you are a startup CEO and can provide an original comment for an article on your business, that will always hold weight over a canned, press release-based comment.